The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 20, 2013

Braves pound Pirates

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons each hit two home runs and the Atlanta Braves bopped the Pittsburgh Pirates 18-9 Wednesday.

Freeman went 4 for 4 and drove in four runs. He’s hit five of his seven spring homers in the past six games and is batting .373 (22 for 59) this spring.

Simmons also doubled in his first game back from the World Baseball Classic.

Braves starter Mike Minor allowed 10 hits, including a homer by Andrew McCutchen, and five runs in four innings.

He walked three and struck out five.

Kyle McPherson, competing for a spot in the Pirates’ rotation, gave up 10 hits and nine runs in 42⁄3 innings.

Freeman was already fitting in nicely in the cleanup spot for Atlanta. Now, the Braves also have leadoff batter Simmons back from the World Baseball Classic, and he’s hitting well, too.

“It’s the way you want to start back,” said the young shortstop. “I hope I didn’t waste all my home runs.”

The Braves finished with 21 hits and have totaled 35 runs in their past two games.

“That’s a quality lineup over there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Braves don’t count on the slick-fielding Simmons for homers. But they need Freeman to continue his spring power surge into the season as he takes over the fourth spot in the batting order. 

“He one of the most naturally talented young hitters in baseball,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.  “I’m not surprised (with what he’s doing).”

The first baseman, who has five of his seven spring homers in his past six games, was 4 for 4 and drove in four runs.

He is batting .373 (22 for 59) and has 15 RBIs.

“He looks great,” Simmons said. “He is really swinging good.”

So is the native of Curacao. The Netherlands was the surprise team of the WBC, reaching the semifinals, and Simmons was one of the big reasons for the team’s success.    

Simmons batted .333 with three doubles, two homers, six RBIs and 10 runs scored in eight WBC games.

“We had a blast,” the 23-year-old said. “I didn’t expect it to be that fun. I didn’t expect the team to be that good. It was great.”  

The high-pressure games also prepared Simmons for his first full major league season. “I feel more like game ready,” he said.

Gonzalez certainly liked what he saw of the player who is replacing Michael Bourn as the Braves’ leadoff hitter.

“He had some great at-bats,” said the manager, adding. “It wasn’t like he’d been on vacation.”

The Braves scored six first-inning runs en route to a 17-10 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday and picked up right where they had left off with five first-inning runs against the Pirates after an off day on Tuesday.

McPherson worked 42⁄3 in-nings and gave up 10 hits and nine runs (eight earned).

“He was trying to follow a game plan and that was problematic,” Hurdle said. “Command was up early. The execution part of the arsenal was really inconsistent. That’s what went sideways on him.”

Braves starter Mike Minor drove in the final first-inning run with a double, but he had his own struggles on the mound.

The left-hander gave up 10 hits and five runs in four innings, walking three and striking out five.

McCutchen hit a homer off Minor in the third inning and was 2 for 4 with two RBIs.

The Pirates had 16 hits, but 14 were singles. 

Notes: Jordan Walden, who has been battling back issues, made his first appearance for the Braves since Feb. 23 and allowed a run in the fifth inning. He walked two and allowed a hit. ... The Pirates acquired John McDonald from Arizona as a backup middle infielder after Chase d’Arnaud had to undergo surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb and will be sidelined up to two months. ... Wandy Rodriguez, who returned to Pirates camp on Monday from the WBC, is slated to throw 85-90 pitches in a minor league game in Bradenton today. He was 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA for the champion Dominican Republic. ... The Pirates play the Orioles at Sarasota tonight, with Jonathan Sanchez scheduled to start. ... The Braves sent reliever Dusty Hughes to the minor-league camp, reducing the spring roster to 40. ... Tim Hudson will start when the Braves host the Nationals in a night game today.

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